President Ma Ying-jeou visited the Academia Historica on the morning of September 1 to attend the opening ceremonies of the Exhibition of Historical Archives on the Southern Territories of the Republic of China. The president explained the justification for the ROC's advocacy of sovereignty over islands in the South China Sea, and urged that the concepts behind his East China Sea Peace Initiative be extended to the South China Sea to resolve disputes in the area peacefully.
In remarks, President Ma first expressed thanks and praise to scholars and experts for their research on topics related to the South China Sea, as well to ROC soldiers for their defense of the nation's territory. The president remarked that some of the busiest marine transport routes in the world pass through the South China Sea. In addition, the area has abundant living and non-living resources, he said, which explains the longstanding attention given to the region by the international community. He acknowledged that claimant countries have occupied various islands and reefs there, which has fueled an increasingly heated regional dispute regarding sovereignty over various islets.
President Ma cited the many actions taken by the ROC government over the past six years in actively dealing with affairs in the South China Sea. First, in July of 2010, the Ministry of the Interior formally inaugurated the Management Station at the Dongsha Atoll National Park to implement the Dongsha Atoll Research Station Project. The aim is to promote Dongsha (also known as the Pratas Islands) as an international hub for marine research, he said. Second, the Ministry of Economic Affairs in 2011 mapped mining areas around Pratas Atoll and Taiping Island, the latter of which is part of the Spratly Islands, and it completed preliminary geological exploration and oceanic survey work. Third, starting from 2011, the ROC's Ministry of National Defense and Coast Guard Administration began holding the Spratly Islands Program and the Dongsha Island Camps to strengthen awareness among youth of the importance of the Spratly Islands. Fourth, in December 2011, the Ministry of Economic Affairs built a photovoltaic system on Taiping Island in the Spratlys to create an environmentally friendly low-carbon island. Fifth, in August 2012 the Ministry of Science and Technology formally began using Taiwan's first 2,700-ton class marine research vessel, the Ocean Researcher V, to bolster the capacity of the ROC to carry out marine research in the area. Sixth, starting in November 2013, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, the Ministry of National Defense, and the Coast Guard Administration began carrying out joint transportation infrastructure work on Taiping Island. And seventh, in December 2013, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications completed a communications network on Taiping Island, thereby creating an avenue for rapid communications and emergency communications services.
President Ma remarked that all of these measures are peaceful rather than military in nature. The objective, he said, is to help the public better understand the ROC's islands in the South China Sea, while at the same time demonstrating to the international community the ROC's detailed and careful management of these islands. In the future when negotiations or talks are held regarding the South China Sea, the ROC must be present, as the nation has an important role in this discourse, the president emphasized.
President Ma commented that issues related to the South China Sea can be discussed from a variety of angles, including history, geography, geology, and international law. He first addressed the aspect of international law, stating that this can be divided into two portions; one pertains to historical territory and sovereignty as defined under international law, and the other involves issues of seas and resources that are addressed in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. President Ma commented that a historical argument can be made for ROC sovereignty over the various islands because the ROC back in 1935 issued the Map of Chinese Islands in the South China Sea to advocate ROC sovereignty over the islands in the area. The president added that in 1947, two years after China's victory in the War of Resistance against Japan, the government dispatched the Zhongye and Taiping warships to the South China Sea to recover islands in the area that had been occupied by Japan. At that time, a re-exploration of the islands was carried out, monuments were erected, and the islands were mapped and garrisoned, he said. In addition, the government also released a table comparing the old and new names of islands in the South China Sea, and issued the Location Map of the South China Sea Islands, he stated. When these documents were released, no nation publicly raised any opposition, the president said. In fact, he said, there are all sorts of historical references to Chinese activity on the islands in the South China Sea since ancient times. President Ma called for stepped up efforts to research the history of the South China Sea.
President Ma further mentioned that at Far Eastern Meteorological Conference, which was held in Hong Kong in 1930, it was decided that the ROC would set up a weather station in the South China Sea. Then in 1955 at the first conference of the International Civil Aviation Organization on aviation in the Asia-Pacific region, the member nations resolved that it be the ROC that would provide weather reports on the Pratas, Spratly, and Paracel Islands, he said. The president stressed that the resolutions passed at these two international conferences indicated recognition and respect for the ROC's territorial sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, after the conclusion of World War II and the surrender of Japan, the United States went to the islands in the South China Sea to carry out mapping, and it notified the ROC before doing so, he said. All of these examples, the president stated, prove that foreign governments at that time recognized and acquiesced to the ROC claims to sovereignty over the islands in the region.
As for the dispute in the South China Sea and international law, President Ma mentioned that US President Harry S. Truman in 1945 issued his Truman Proclamations, advocating that the United States had sovereign rights to the seabed and sub-soil in the Gulf of Mexico and that it could engage in related development work. Prior to that proclamation, however, no nation had made any such claim to the seabed or sub-soil of territorial seas or contiguous areas, he said, so Truman's move triggered considerable debate and sparked fishing disputes between the United States and Central American nations. It was not until 1958, when the Convention on the Continental Shelf and three other conventions were adopted at the first United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, that "the concept of a continental shelf was formally confirmed internationally," the president stated.
President Ma added that when the ROC issued the Location Map of the South China Sea Islands in 1947, aside from the concept of territorial waters, no other concepts regarding maritime zones existed, nor had any claims been made. Consequently, different parties still have varying opinions on how to apply international law to resolve the dispute in the South China Sea, he said. In fact, the president remarked, a similar problem has arisen with respect to the Diaoyutai Islets in the East China Sea, adding that he once pointed out that the principle of intertemporal law applies in the matter of the Diaoyutais. Under this principle, "a juridical fact must be appreciated in the light of the law contemporary with it, and not of the law in force at the time when a dispute in regard to it arises or falls to be settled" [as Judge Max Huber stated in the Island of Palmas case]. The principle that "sovereignty over land determines ownership of the surrounding waters," which is set out in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, applies to disputes concerning sovereignty over both land and sea, he stated, explaining that this is why nations are seeking to occupy islands and reefs in the South China Sea.
President Ma also pointed to the ROC's experience in handling the issue in the East China Sea as an example of how questions regarding territorial sovereignty and seas can be handled separately. The president said that on August 5, 2012 he unveiled his East China Sea Peace Initiative, which advocates that although sovereignty over national territory cannot be compromised, natural resources can be shared. Last year, Taiwan and Japan signed a fisheries agreement, thus using peaceful means to resolve a 40-year fishing dispute, he noted, adding that the agreement allows fishermen from the two nations to operate in high-quality fishing grounds in an area twice the size of Taiwan. The president stated that the international community responded positively to the announcement of the peace initiative. This has given the ROC even more confidence to express its opinion on issues in the South China Sea, he remarked, further expressing his hope that the same principle of resolving disputes through peaceful means can be applied to the South China Sea.
The president also explained that the ROC, mainland China, Vietnam, and the Philippines occupy various islands in the South China Sea, which makes resolving the sovereignty dispute even more complex. What's more, the area has abundant resources, he said, remarking that he hopes the concept of "safeguarding sovereignty, shelving disputes, pursuing peace and reciprocity, and promoting joint exploration and development" can be applied. He stated that while Taiwan and Japan still have a sovereignty dispute over the Diaoyutai Islets, both sides have decided to temporarily shelve the dispute and instead jointly share the fishing resources of the area, thereby resulting in mutual benefit.
Lastly, President Ma stressed that the government will resolutely defend national sovereignty in the South China Sea. It will assemble and release related historical documents that highlight the ROC's sovereignty over islands in the area, he emphasized, and will find ways to reduce tensions in the waters around the islands so as to resolve the dispute peacefully. The president expressed hope that scholars and experts will continue helping the government to prepare solid arguments so that the ROC will not be absent from any future negotiations, talks, or decisions regarding territorial disputes in the South China Sea.